A researcher holding a mice

Refutation on animal testing: Is it Right or Wrong and Can we Replace it?

Cats and dogs and mice may be viewed differently. Some prefer cats, some dogs, and some even rats. But one thing can be agreed on by all. These animals can feel pain and have a will to live a healthy life. But often they are subjected to “inhumane” tests for the medicines humans can benefit from. Is animal testing necessary? Or is it even effective? This article will look at the refutations on animal testing being cruel, ineffective, or necessary and effective. 

At the end of the article, you can find the sources for all the information that we have put here so you can fact-check yourself. The will to live a better, healthy life is a noble one. But the method we have for them is not that noble. We choose animals to be the scapegoats to increase our knowledge in medicine and benefit our species.

If science was some form of God, we use animals as the sacrificial offering to learn the knowledge of medicine and make human lives better. Yes, some animals do benefit from these tests but a majority of the drugs are for humans. So is this practice a redundancy or a necessary evil? 

What happens in animal testing.

Animal testing is a multi-faceted process that ranges from genetic tests, drug tests, physiological tests, intelligence tests, and even toxicity tests. Scientists don’t just view these animals as something they can do anything with, but more like something they have to try whatever the research asks them to. 

Some of these tests can be horrifying, like cutting the skin of mice’s genitalia and stimulating it with electrodes to study the areas of the brain affected. Some include mutilating goats while they are not properly anesthetized. Animals such as monkeys and dogs are subjected to smoke and tar to study tumors. There are sepsis experiments, some schools still dissect frogs, etc.

Not all animal tests are cruel. Some tests just test the psychological makeup of the animal and use the data to better understand how that translates to humans or other animals. So assuming that every form of animal testing is horrid is false. But a majority of these tests are harmful to the animal subjects. 

Is animal testing necessary? 

The reason why animal testing exists can be attributed to the competency and the incompetency of humans. We are competent enough to understand medicine and how it can be used to save lives, but we are incompetent to learn about it in a way that does not involve torturing animals for our gains.

Animal testing is necessary because we don’t have a better way to find new drugs. This along with the fact that animal testing has produced great results, it is very difficult to abandon it. Scientists manipulate the genes, physiology, etc of animal test subjects such as mice and then try different drugs, vaccines, etc to see if it works or not. This is the cause of the cruelty that scientists are forced to commit. 

A new drug is found when it shows the desired effects on animals. Then the drug is further tested on other animals and on a larger number of animals to learn more about it. A misconception exists that after trials on animals, these drugs are deemed fit and sent for human consumption. This is wrong. 

If the drug works, then it goes on to be tested on humans. This involves 5-stages and after passing through all these stages, it is sent for the general population. Simply put, animal testing is to know if the drug works or not. Human testing is to see if it works and is safe for human use. You can see the dependence of animal testing for a new drug. We cannot test a novel drug directly on humans. 

a sign of a dead bird

Animal testing fails many time

No matter how similar humans are to a particular species of animal, drugs can alter their effects, making the entire testing process pointless. Imagine a drug being tested of 500 animals and after a lot of refinement, it goes to the human trials phase. If the drug does not work (which is mostly the case) or if it’s unsafe, the candidate drug gets scrapped.

The FDA says that about 92% of the drugs that are tested on animals and are safe on them fail on human testing. They generally don’t work. Keep this point in mind as I’ll get back to it later in the article. 

Then comes the intensely painful tests done mostly on mice but sometimes on other animals. These tests are inducing tumors and certain forms of cancer in mice and trying to cure them. Of course most of the subjects die, but we have cured cancer in mice, though it is of no use for humans. 

The history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades and it simply didn’t work in human beings” – Dr. Richard Klausner, former director of the US National Cancer Institute

For about 100 new drugs that are approved each year, more than 100 million animals are used for testing. Here is the success rate of drugs that work both on animals and humans:

  • 5% of the cancer drugs
  • 6% of psychiatry drugs
  • 7% of heart drugs
  • 8% of neurological drugs.

This number is low which indicates a few things. First, we are shooting in the dark when it comes to animal testing. Since we have no prior knowledge of which drug will be the best candidate, we test all possible drugs on animals. Second is the more a drug fails, the more testing is required. 

Here are some examples of drugs that failed terribly for humans, even though they were approved in animal testings.

  • Vioxx is a drug that was made by Merck and it was tested on multiple societies of animals and deemed safe. The drug is used to treat the arthritis-related pain. The drug was tested in human trials and the results were not that great. 79 out of 4,000 patients taking Vioxx suffered from serious heart problems and some of them even died. But Vioxx was released in the market (For which Merck is facing lawsuits). The drug has been estimated to have caused around 320,000 heart attacks and strokes and 140,000 deaths worldwide.
  • In 2006, an antibody treatment called TGN1412 in the UK caused human volunteers to suffer from severe allergic reactions, some fatal. This treatment was tested on monkeys and showed no sign of adverse effect, even at a higher dosage.
  • Many carcinogens that are fatal for humans are harmless for most animals. This is a big concern since many drugs that might seem harmless can turn out to be carcinogens. It has been estimated that only one-third of substances that are known to be carcinogens for humans can cause cancer in animals.
  • The human trial of fialuridine to treat Hepatitis B turned out to be fatal after it causes liver failure, resulting in the death of five volunteers. This drug was also tested on animals and labeled safe.
  • Countless drugs are fatal for humans but harmless for animals and vice-versa. This not only shows that animal testing will inherently produce poor results but also shows that countless animals must suffer from finding the right drug/treatment.
Illustration of hazard sign

Why is animal testing cruel?

There is no doubt that however “humane” these testing are called, they’ll always be cruel. From snatching babies from mother monkeys to deliberately injecting mice with dopamine to the point where the mouse refuses to eat, intervening with an organism’s life is cruel. But this isn’t cruel without reason. 

This moral conundrum can be elucidated with some thinking. Animals kill other animals, that is the natural world for you. We deliberately kill mosquitos even if it does not carry malaria because we want to protect ourselves. There is a reason behind the killing. The reason is protecting ourselves. 

Mary Anne Warren in “Difficulties With the Strong Animal Rights Position”  mentions the reason for killing. Is the killing carried out of necessity or enjoyment? Killing mosquitoes and poaching animals are two different things, based on our moral values. 

But thinking of animal testing in another convoluted way is this; Like we kill the mosquitoes to protect ourselves and our younger generation from deadly diseases like malaria, we put animals into suffering (not deliberately) to protect ourselves from similar deadly diseases. It would have been morally satisfying to kill mosquitoes to find a drug for malaria, but it doesn’t work that way. We don’t necessarily enjoy killing mosquitoes, it’s just that we don’t want a deadly disease in our bodies.

Moreover, culture plays a lot in our morality regarding this. If people in the US are given a choice between a pig and a dog for a drug test, most of them would choose the pig, since people breed them and eat them. Dogs are more than animals, they are family members. 

But this changes when people of other countries are asked the same question, the answer would change. In many cultures and countries, dogs are eaten. For these people, dogs will not hold any special place. Since dogs are just a source of meat, torturing dogs would not be of much concern, especially if it enables them to bring new medicines. This brings us to a bigger aspect of our moral perceptive towards animal testing. 

illustration of pills by the spacefarer

Is animal testing necessary? 

The question of necessity arises from the situation. Let’s say that there is a rampant disease that is deadly and is spreading. To save countless human lives, would you allow animal testing that involved torturing some mice or even chimps? This is a difficult question to answer due to the conflict it creates and usually, we choose the lesser evil. 

There are thousands of drugs that are a probable candidate for the disease. But we don’t know which one will work or which one is safe for humans. If we were to remove animal testing from the process, drugs would have to be directly tested on humans. This is a huge issue. 

Many articles report on the microdosing method where a small number of experimental drugs are given to human subjects. This is not a solution because microdosing is done when a drug is deemed safe in animals first. And no one can micro-dose and test hundreds of drugs on human subjects. Animal testing, unfortunately, is necessary at the moment.

Another issue arises with complexities. Mice are used as test subjects because scientists can create these “lab-rats” with desired mutations. Moreover, since rats are not that expressive of their emotions, the guilt in torturing them is considerably low. But when it comes to psychological tests, we need organisms with a more complex brain structure. Be it Pavlov’s dogs or chimps. 

Primate animals resemble humans a lot. Scientists have been vocal about the importance of primate testing in understanding humans better. It could see, cruel and in some ways it is, but it is something required by science to learn more about ourselves and life. Now let’s see how animal testing has benefited humanity. 

Benefits from animal testing 

While animal testing for drugs can be extremely inefficient, meaning that a lot of animals are used for testing to finalize a small number of effective drugs. But these drugs have a huge impact. Animal testing is the only way to test for new drugs and even it takes a lot of testing to sift through so many different drug combinations. But here is what we have achieved from it. 

The table shows the drug developed on testing on various animals that treat different ailments. This is just a list of 25 drugs, there are many more. You can visit NABR’s site to see the complete list, that being the source of this list. Click here to see the complete list.

DrugDrug UsageSpecies
SynthroidEnlarged thyroid; hypothyroidismRats, Dogs, Mice
CrestorHigh cholesterolRats, Beagle dogs, Mice, Cats, Cynomolgus monkeys, Rabbits
NexiumHeartburn; Acid RefluxRats, Beagle dogs, Rabbits, Mice
Ventolin HFABronchospasmRats, Beagle dogs, New Zealand white rabbits
Advair DiskusAsthma; COPD Flare-upsRats, Dogs, Mice, Rabbits, Guinea pigs, Monkeys, Hamsters
DiovanHigh Blood PressureRats, Mice, Rabbits, Marmosets
Lantus SolostarDiabetes mellitusRats, Beagle Dogs, Rabbits, Guinea Pigs
CymbaltaFibromyalgia; Major Depressive & General Anxiety DisordersMice, Rats, Rabbits, Dogs
VyvanseADHD; Severe binge eating (adults)Rats, Guinea Pigs, Beagle Dogs
LyricaFibromyalgia; EpilepsyMice, Rats, Monkeys, Rabbits
Spiriva HandihalerCOPD (including Bronchitis & Emphysema)Mice, Rats, Rabbits, Dogs
LantusTypes 1 & 2 DiabetesMice, Dogs, Guinea Pigs, Rats
CelebrexArthritis; Ankylosing SpondylitisRats, Mice, Beagle Dogs, Monkeys
AbilifySchizophrenia & Bipolar DisorderRats, Dogs, Monkeys, Rabbits
JanuviaType 2 DiabetesRats, Rabbits, Dogs, Monkeys
NamendaModerate to Severe DementiaRats, Mice, Beagle Dogs
ViagraErectile DysfunctionRats, Dogs, Mice, Rabbits
CialisErectile DysfunctionMice, Beagle Dogs, Wistar Rats
ZetiaHigh cholesterolRats, Dogs, Mice
NasonexSeasonal/Year-Round AllergiesRats, Rabbits, Dogs
SuboxoneNarcotic AddictionMice, Rats, Rabbits, Baboons, Dogs
SymbicortAsthmaMice, Rats, Dogs
BystolicHypertensionMice, Rats, Dogs
Flovent HFAPrevent Asthma AttacksRats, Rabbits, Dogs
OxycontinLong-lasting, Moderate to Severe PainRats, Rabbits
Source: NABR

The benefits brought by animal testing (even if it is cruel) cannot be ignored. Just like we kill pigs and cows and chickens to have a healthy and fulfilling meal. Humans have been torturing animals for their benefits since time immemorial. But there is a difference between necessity and desire. Testing for medicine seems to fall in the bracket of necessity.

President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, Frankie Trull said, “If you’ve ever taken antibiotics, had a vaccine, had chemotherapy, an MRI, a blood transfusion, dialysis, an organ transplant, bypass surgery or joint replacement, you have been the beneficiary of research that started with lab animals.”

Not just him, but the director of NIH, Francis S. Collins said “We have to continually make the case for how valuable it has been to study animals to learn almost everything we know about how biology works.” These are not cruel men advocating torture on animals, but these are scientists stating the importance of animal testing for humans without denying the negative aspects of it.

What animal testing gave us 

Some of the most dangerous diseases have been conquered thanks to the sacrifice of animals. It is a cruel and inhuman thing to say, since we benefited from the sufferings of animals you cannot speak. But it is a necessity. 

Human and mice genes similarity infographic by the spacefarer
Image: The Spacefarer

Vaccine for smallpox, anthrax, rabies, typhoid, cholera, and plague are all attributed to animal testing. Diseases such as rickets, the discovery of vitamin C, blood transfusion, local anesthetics, polio vaccine, hip replacement surgery, high blood pressure medicine, kidney dialysis, penicillin, heart-lung machine, whooping cough vaccine, etc are all due to animal testing. You can read the entire list here. 

How to stop animal testing 

First, animal testing is not going to stop anytime soon, no matter how much we want to. Second, if it stops, it won’t be an abrupt process, rather a gradual one. Some emerging technologies point towards a future where animals won’t have to pay the price for our safety.

There are 4 approaches to solve this problem. These are all emerging technologies and will take time to mature, but they do point us towards a better, kinder future. We have briefly discussed these approaches with links so that you can find out more about them.

  • Harvard’s Wyss institute’s Organ on Chip is a new approach to get rid of animal testing. This approach, as the name suggests grows human cells such as the muscle cells, alveolar cells, etc on a chip. Tests can be conducted to see how these cells react and then the data is studied. This is cutting-edge technology and will take time to get accepted widely. Read more about it on Harvard’s website. 
  • MatTek’s EpiDerm is a 3D human cell-derived skin model to test drugs that create samples of human skin cells. The goal is to mainly test allergens on human skin without using an actual human. Not just skin, but MatTek is developing other cells too. You can read more about it here. 
  • ViTROCELL makes human lung cells test the effects of exposure to different gases, smoke, and smog. The goal is to test the carcinogenicity of these elements without using cats and dogs and killing/hurting them 
  • Computer modeling is the method of seeing a minor effect on animal testing/ human testing and then using computer algorithms to take in other factors and predict the effect of the drug/test. This method is far easier to adopt but is not always that accurate.

In Conclusion

Testing drugs on mute animals is morally wrong and there is no denying that. This is well understood by many scientists and researchers and it is safe to assume that they do it just for the sake of research, not because they are some sort of sadistic beasts. The problem that underlies is we do not have a better option. 

Diseases are rampant and we need to find a cure. If scientists had a better option, they would resort to that. I know how morally and ethically wrong it is to torture any animal in any form. But I also understand the importance of research and medicine that stops millions of people from succumbing to bacteria and viruses and a plethora of micro-enemies. The day we get a better way to research on medicine that does not involve hurting animals, I’ll be the first to advocate its use.

You can find more about the misconceptions of animal testing and drug trials failing by clicking here.

Read the research paper for the importance of the use of animal testing for biological research in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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